Zardari Granted Bail. Is It Time For Him To Retire?

Murtaza Solangi analyses former president Zardari's bail on medical grounds granted by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) and discusses what is next for the PPP supremo. Will he retire from active politics following his release?

After 185 days of incarceration without conviction, former President Asif Zardari was granted bail today on medical grounds by the Islamabad High Court. He is expected to be officially released tomorrow (Thursday) after legal/codal formalities.

He was arrested on June 10 by National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the controversial accountability body, created by former dictator General ® Musharraf to create his Kings party and to hound his opponents.

In 2008, the minority government of PPP made some futile attempts to change the law forming the accountability bureau. But the PML-N did not cooperate with them.

PPP stalwart Naveed Qamar has said on several occasions that the PML-N had finally agreed to amend the NAB law but it was sabotaged by Chaudhry Nisar, the then Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly.

Asif Zardari implicated in the fake accounts and money laundering cases, has been investigated by the FIA under instructions of the Supreme Court during former CJ Saqib Nisar’s tenure. Oddly enough, his trial and incarceration did not happen in Sindh, the province where the alleged crimes took place.

Asif Zardari has been kept either in the NAB custody or in Adiala Jail in judicial custody all this time. It was only after his health took an extremely downturn that he was admitted in the government hospital of Islamabad. His family has been complaining about the refusal of access to his personal doctors – something that was allowed to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The release of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on bail on October 29 and his eventual departure to London on November 19, after the Lahore High Court rejected the condition of Rs 7.5 billion worth indemnity bonds condition set by PTI govt, the calls for the release of Asif Zardari had got louder.

The essential difference of non-conviction of the former president and his serious medical condition were highlighted as the basis for his release.

But his name name remains on the Exit Control List, so for now, he can probably move to Karachi at some point before either the government strikes his name off the list or some legal remedy is sought by him.

All medical details available suggest that the former president is suffering from multiple serious ailments. During his stay in Manhattan, New York in 2005-2006, he had sought medical care for some of his ailments from The Mount Sinai Hospital, where he may probably want to go back, provided he is allowed either by the government or the courts.

Asif Zardari has maintained the control of the PPP after the martyrdom of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

While he doesn’t exude a populist persona, his backroom dealing expertise has benefited the party, especially during the PPP rule when the party completed its first five-year term in federal power despite not having a simple majority in the lower house of the parliament.

His coalition building expertise helped the party survive the government after its major coalition partner, the PML-N, quit the coalition government in May 2008, three months after joining the government.

Asif Zardari had to seek the help of PML-Q, MQM and JUI-F to complete the five year tenure.

Now as the party goes back to Liaquat Bagh, the place Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was martyred twelve years ago, it faces serious problems to keep itself afloat as the national party. Fifty two years ago, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto founded the party in Lahore, it won elections in the then West Pakistan within three years. It emerged as the most popular party of the Punjab where novices returned elected both in the National and the Provincial Assembly.

In 1970 elections, the PPP had won 113 seats of the Punjab Assembly in a house of 180. The party coming second to the PPP was Council Muslim League led by Mumtaz Daultana with only 15 seats.

In those days, the PPP could not even get simple majority in the Sindh Assembly where it had won only 28 seats in a house of 60. Fifty two years later, the party is ruling Sindh but has been almost wiped out of the province where it came into being.

Young Bilawal Bhutto has provided a charismatic alternative to PPP compared to Asif Zardari but major challenges lie ahead of him as he has not faced hard choices like his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his mother.

Nine years ago, Asif Zardari told me in the President House that everybody should think of a retirement time. “I too would like to retire from active politics at some point and let the younger lot run the affairs”, he had said. Has the time come for Asif Zardari to retire, take care of his health and advise his party from a distance? We might get the answer to the question fairly soon.

Executive Editor

Murtaza Solangi is one of Pakistan's top journalists, and former Director General of Radio Pakistan.